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Scientists Develop Ultra-Precise Lasers to Remove Cancers Without Damaging Healthy Tissue


Scottish scientists have developed a system of lasers that melt cancer cells without damaging normal healthy cells.

National Cancer Institute, CC license

The revolutionary treatment relies on a series of pulses that are short enough to melt cancer cells, but too short for heat to transfer to neighboring ones, a major stumbling block in previous work in the field.

Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh continues the long and celebrated tradition of Scottish medical advancement nearly a hundred years after penicillin was isolated by physician Alexander Fleming. Research in laser technology was funded by £ 1.2 million ($ 1.6 million (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd led the project, which said Sky News successfully killed colorectal cancer cells in laboratory tests.

“We demonstrated in the laboratory that our laser system can kill cancer cells in a way that restricts damage to surrounding healthy cells, within the width of a human hair,” he said.

“We are building on our understanding of lasers in colorectal cancer surgery towards clinical application and are working to adapt it to cancers of the brain, head and neck, where it could have enormous benefits for patients,” he added.

The technique consists of firing the laser in pulses, each of which measures approximately one trillionth of a second, thus preventing the transfer of heat to the surrounding tissues.

Light therapy

Three years is the current timeline for more R&D, presumably before the device is ready for clinical trials, which will also include research for a fiber-optic-based device that can target and destroy cancer cells three times smaller. than the ones the laser can remove.

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These two are not Heriot-Watt’s first light therapy projects. In fact, it was announced last September that the university had secured a £ 6.1 million ($ 8.3 million) grant to research deep ultraviolet light therapy in germicide practice.

Deep UV light does not occur on Earth, but it has been shown to kill germs, including those that have built up antimicrobial resistance.

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Professor Robert Thomson of Heriot-Watt University he told the university press: “Some wavelengths of ultraviolet light are known for their germicidal properties, but they can cause cancer in human tissues. That is the problem we will solve. “

“We will develop technologies that generate ultraviolet light at the right wavelength, where the light remains germicidal but without the harmful effects. We will also develop technologies to deliver this light with precision, such as optical fibers to transport it to the body without causing further damage, ”he said.

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Ultraviolet radiation is something that astronauts and spacecraft builders constantly have to be aware of, as even brief exposure to it beyond the confines of the atmosphere can lead to cancer and other diseases.

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